Virtual events may be missing a single element that could redeem the whole experience
The last in-person conference I attended before COVID-19 broke out already felt like the beginning of the end.
Attendees wandered around a convention centre where the exhibit floor had obviously been shrunk down to less than two thirds of the originally-intended size. For once, there were plenty of seats in common areas and no lineups for food. A few people seemed to hesitate as they remembered not to shake hands.
The next day, the conference was shut down after it was discovered someone had contracted the virus a week earlier in the same venue. Since then, it’s been kind of like this:
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.
The problem with virtual conferences is that the reason we attended in person conferences is mostly ignored or misunderstood.
Some context? I’m a professional speaker – 35+ years – 45+ countries – or rather, I WAS a professional speaker because I doubt I’ll stand in front of a large audience again in my lifetime because of COVID-19. Why mention this? Because it provides context to the following comments.
Industry Conferences are NOT about the speakers. We are filler. Placed between the coffee breaks, lunch, the evening festivities and the sharing of information at the bar. We are the ephemeral entertainment. And yes, while we strive to bring valuable content to the audience? It’s not about us. I wish it were, but it ain’t.
Industry Conferences ARE about the unique opportunity to spend time with your peers. The face-to-face connections. The heart-to-heart conversations about what’s happening in your industry.
The most important phrases uttered at a conference? “So nice to finally meet you!” and “Nice to see you again!”
Sadly? This is rarely leveraged even with the traditional conference, and is almost impossible to deliver in a virtual conference.
True… the speakers need to better use the available medium. To figure out HOW to engage an audience that isn’t in front of them. Let’s be honest… MOST virtual presentations are as boring as watching paint dry.
There are techniques for increasing interaction WITHOUT resorting to Q&A type polls. Some are just speaking techniques- engaging the audience with RELEVANT questions is a good start – others would require technical abilities to provide feedback while the speaker is speaking… click on agree/disagree buttons, clicking on interesting/not interesting buttons, keeping typing to a minimum and just using clicks or better yet? Touching the screen to provide instant feedback.
There is also the ability to make a V-Meeting ‘feel’ more like a ‘real’ meeting. It COULD be done, but with a tremendous amount of effort…(though the first one to market? Will make midas look like a pauper) It would require that Meeting planners take a page from MMORPG games. Where EVERY attendee is presented by an avatar on the screen. Where when you ‘walk’ INTO a room – you can see how full it is. Where you can recognise someone by their avatar. Where you can have a conversation via audio with an avatar – where you could add a handful of ‘avatars’ to a group discussion.
The time of mass meetings is over – and the sooner we start thinking about HOW to deliver the core value of meeting in person ‘virtually’ the better. First step? Is to accept that physical conferences were always mostly about MEETING each other… the speakers (that’s me for one) were rarely the primary reason for going to a conference.
Peter de Jager